USFK leader: Armistice violation by N. Korea set 'dangerous precedent'
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — In his strongest statement yet on North Korea bringing weapons into the Demilitarized Zone, the U.N. commander in South Korea accused the north on Sunday of endangering Koreans by breaking the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War.
Korean People’s Army soldiers brought light machines guns into a construction site in the DMZ six times from Dec. 13 to Dec. 20, U.N. command officials said. The North Korean soldiers placed them on sandbagged fortifications and removed them by the end of the workday.
“These actions by the KPA set a dangerous precedent,” said Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, commander of U.N. Command and U.S. Forces Korea, in a news release. “If the North Koreans continue to use this practice of refusing to acknowledge the armistice agreement’s authority in the DMZ, it could undermine the armistice’s most valuable visible mechanism for maintaining a separation of opposing forces — the DMZ.”
A U.N. command official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Monday the weapons were not pointed offensively at South Korean soldiers and were set up for “protective fire.”
The official said the command hopes to pressure North Korea into abiding by the armistice agreement.
U.N. Command officials presented photographs of the violations to North Korean Army officials Dec. 30 during a meeting at Panmunjom. North Korea dismissed the issue as outside what the agreement covered, the release said.
North Korea has sought to make the western transportation corridor exempt from the 1953 armistice agreement’s rules. But North Korea agreed in November 2000 to abide by the armistice within the transportation corridor.
The agreement allowed North and South Korea to work with one another during construction projects, regulating such issues as the number of workers allowed in the DMZ at one time.
But both sides still are bound by the armistice agreement, which ended the Korean War. It dictates rules of contact between the U.N. Command and North Korea and protocol in the DMZ.
Last week, North Korea also accused the south of sending navy ships into its territorial waters. A U.N. Command official said the accusation was false.
The South Korean Defense Ministry also sent complaints to North Korea about the weapons.
The transportation corridor was supposed to be completed in September 2001 but is far behind schedule. South Korea has almost completed a railway and highway up to the border in the DMZ’s middle, but North Korea is only in the early stages of work on these projects.
North and South Korea also are working on another transportation corridor in the eastern DMZ. The two countries built a temporary road across the zone and are working on a more permanent one.
North Korea has not had any armistice violations in that part of the DMZ, the U.N. official said.
When completed, both sides have said they hope the highway will make tourist travel to Mount Kumgang in North Korea cheaper and easier. Interest in tours there waned because of high fees.
The armistice violation comes at a time of high tension with North Korea. Officials in that country admitted in October to working secretly on nuclear weapons, breaking a 1994 agreement with the United States. North Korea has not confirmed U.S. Defense Department estimates that it already may have one or two such weapons.